The Vermont House on Wednesday passed minor Senate changes to a bill that would require Vermont to meet certain greenhouse gas emissions targets in the coming years and allow for the state to be sued if it doesn’t.
The measure, given final approval Tuesday, now goes to Republican Gov. Phil Scott, who said he has issues with parts of the global warming solutions act.
“One of them is making the state financially liable and … from a lawsuit and so I don’t believe that’s the right approach,” Scott said Tuesday, during his regular COVID-19 briefing.
The House, which had already approved the original legislation, concurred with the Senate amendment by a vote of 102 to 45 on Tuesday.
Some lawmakers said now wasn’t the time to pass the legislation amid a recession from the coronavirus pandemic while others said doing nothing is not an option. Vermont has the highest level of greenhouse gas emissions per capita in the Northeast, with nearby states passing global solutions acts, some representatives said.
Democratic Rep. George Till, of Jericho, said the COVID-pandemic related recession is because the country did not act quickly or strongly enough to the virus.
“So the irony strikes me. Here we face another crisis and are we going to wait until it’s too late to do anything on that crisis, too?,” he said pointing to acres burned in California wildfires and hot temperatures in Colorado with snow the following day.
“If we are not too late we will be lucky but we really cannot afford to wait until it’s too late to prevent this next disaster,” he said.
Rep. Mari Cordes, a Democrat, from Lincoln, said it was lawmakers’ responsibility to protect Vermonters and be proactive, particularly when it’s hard.
“Supporting the global warming solutions act is supporting economic resilience and protecting the most vulnerable from the devastating impacts of climate change,” she said, adding that it doesn’t go far enough.
The legislation would set up a council on climate council to analyze ways Vermont can reduce emissions. It also sets greenhouse emissions reduction standards of not less than 26% from 2005 levels by Jan. 1, 2025, based on the state’s membership in the United States Climate Alliance, and further targets by 2030 and 2050. The measure allocates more than $970,000 to the Agency of Natural Resources for implementing the act, including for positions and costs of administrative, technical and legal support to the council and the hiring consultants and experts. Some lawmakers opposed leaving the tasks to non-elected council.
Scott said he believed the state needs to put laws in place that will help meet the targets and that using electric vehicles is the answer.
“Sixty percent of our emissions are through transportation and we’ve started moving in that direction,” he said of the use of electric vehicles. The state can “further work towards changing behavior in that area and I think it’s exciting in a lot of respects,” Scott said.
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